Beginning today, the Lectionary for Daily Masses includes readings from the various prophets of Israel. As we proclaim these prophecies, it is important to remember that these men were prophesying to the kings and people of Israel during the period of time of which we just read, during the Babylonian captivity, and after they were released from that captivity. The prophesies that they utter bring the Word of God to the Israelites before, during and after the exile.
We begin with Amos. Amos was a sheepbreeder of Tekoa in Judah, who delivered his oracles in the Northern Kingdom during the prosperous reign of Jeroboam II. Consequently, we refer to him as a pre-exilic prophet.
Amos's style of preaching reminds me of the phrase, "the straw that broke the camel's back." The first chapters of Amos contain a series of indictments against the cities of Israel. "For three crimes of . . . and now four. . ." In other words, these people have persisted in their crimes against God and the weight of their guilt will now crush them. The last of these indictments, from which we read today, denounces Israel for completely turning its back on the Sinai covenant. They have turned their backs on the poor, and they have turned to other gods. They have failed to love God and to love their neighbor, the heart of the Law. This is not to say that they have abandoned the rituals of the Temple. Throughout Amos' preaching, the priests have continued to offer the prescribed sacrifices. However, their worship is empty because they have not kept the commandments. Psalm 50, which we use today as our response, takes up this fact very clearly. God does not need ritual sacrifices. The way to praise and glorify God is to live out our baptismal commitment.
Amos challenges us in the same way that he challenged his contemporaries. We must to examine our own lives and our own worship. It is important that we remember that prayer and sacrifice are only one part of our relationship to God. How we treat our neighbors is just as important as the amount of time we spend with the Lord. Our faith cannot simply be lived out in worship. It must also be worked out in deeds and in observance of the commandments, especially the commandment to love one another as we have been loved. To receive the great gift of God in the Eucharist and to fail to extend that love to others is the classical definition of eating and drinking unworthily.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator